ORONO, Maine — Katie Higgins of Hampden knows her job is stressful. But, for at least an hour each week she can let it go, breathe deeply and connect with her daughters, Zoe, 6 and Ella, 4.
The three are regulars at OmLand Yoga’s “Mantis Kids’ Yoga” class in Orono. Designed to introduce young children to creative movement and the basics of yoga, the class is indicative of programs popping up in schools, community centers and studios around Maine.
“I am trying to instill in my girls the importance of eating healthy and being healthy, and yoga, I believe, is a part of this,” Higgins said.
Holly Twining, who teaches the class in Orono, hopes that her classes teach children about the importance of moving their bodies.
“So often, unfortunately, we are static, and with kids it’s really important to get them moving,” she said. “Once you get moving, you express yourself and your heart really opens.”
Yoga, which was started in ancient India about 5,000 years means “union.” Yogis believe the practice helps unite their physical and spiritual selves. For Higgins, it is one of the reasons she was keen on introducing her daughters at a young age.
“I started them doing yoga because I have always enjoyed it, and have done it for many years,” Higgins said. “I believe it is great for your mind, body and spirit.”
For children, classes can also give them the opportunity to learn other important lessons like sharing the spotlight, how to be quiet and learning to work with a partner, Twining said.
Those lessons, however, don’t always come easily and she said it can be challenging at times to work with students who either can’t or won’t focus. But, she tries to remind herself that it’s more about letting the child still have a positive experience. It’s a life lesson for her, too.
“Often there is a child who doesn’t want to participate, and before I used to be affected by it,” she said. “But you want them feel the love and the good stuff and yoga teaches us to let it go and keep breathing.”
Twining, who also works at the Maine Audubon Society, keeps her classes “nature and insect-inspired.” She finds that the two worlds — outdoors and yoga, often intertwine.
“It seems so natural, nature and yoga,” she said.
Her classes will often start with a nature-themed book, then students will become animals, insects, plants and sometimes even habitats. She talks to them about how breathing is the sound of the universe, and guides them through postures.
“That’s when we really get into fun things, we’ll become flowers, their favorite color, a place,” Twining said.
Class, which for “drop-ins” costs $10 per child and $5 for a sibling, often finishes with guided relaxation as the young students imagine floating up and into the clouds.
Yoga in schools
Portland-based children’s yoga instructor Cayce Lannon has found her niche in the burgeoning interest of teachers who want to bring yoga to their classrooms. Yoga programs like hers, specifically for young children, are not yet the norm. Instead, most classes for kids are offered as part of a studio for adults.
Her studio, Maine Yoga Kids, isn’t based anywhere in particular. She and fellow teacher, Jenna Nordberg, go to schools and community centers teaching classes for all ages. So far, they have classes throughout Portland, and are working toward partnering with others in Cumberland and Scarborough.
Lannon said many teachers and activity leaders are seeing the benefits of using yoga to break up the sometimes monotonous school days. So, she’ll focus on teaching teachers and students about poses and activities they can do in the confines of a classroom.
“It helps kids focus, calm down and learn to self-regulate,” Lannon said adding that students watching their teachers participate is important. “It makes it more than just a special activity, but part of their everyday life.”
Her classes look much like those Twining teaches in Orono in that there is emphasis placed on welcoming everyone, plenty of singing and finding poses that relate to animals and nature. She also asks them to think about why they are doing yoga that day and whether they want to dedicate the session to anyone in particular.
According to the book “Yoga For Children” by Lisa Flynn, yoga has been shown to increase concentration, focus and attention span in children and adults. It also can reduce stress and anxiety, which is key, Lannon said.
“All the stress we have as adults is projected onto kids whether we realize it or not,” she said. “Kids may not know what the word ‘stress’ means, but they can feel it.”
A lot of adults, like Higgins, attend kids’ classes as well. Both teachers say it’s a chance for them to connect with their children, but also offers an introduction to yoga.
“I think parents shouldn’t be afraid of yoga in the title,” Twining said. “There’s often a fear of not being flexible enough but they shouldn’t worry about what age they are or whether they’ll like it or not. It’s a great community filled with laughter and stories.”
And for those who can’t make it to a class, there’s always the living room floor and online videos.
“Just putting on music for your kids and getting them moving their body can be so great,” Lannon said. “There’s stuff all over YouTube — find a kids yoga video, do it with them and have fun being there for and connecting with your child.”